The journey begins in San Miniato, famous as a medieval hilltop town (and truffle-culture capital), but with evidence of human activity stretching back to prehistoric times: its small fraction Paesante holds the remains of a Bronze Age village. Sandwiched between contemporary Pisa and Florence, San Miniato is known for its lively local rituals and markets, which run year-round but vary according to the season: we’ll get to that shortly.
Begin your exploration with a visit to the Rocca di San Miniato defensive structure, which is a fine testament to the town’s longstanding reputation as strategically located (San Miniato spreads across three small hills, with bird’s-eye views of the Egola, Arno and Elsa valleys). The Rocca di San Miniato was completed at the beginning of the 13th century: from the top, you can see the meeting point of the Tuscan via Francigena with its Roman counterpart, which from Pisa snakes its way to Florence.
Also in your line of vision is the archaeological site of San Genesio, which was a stopping point along the via Francigena for numerous travelers during medieval times. It is generally considered to be the settlement out of which grew today’s San Miniato, beginning in the 13th century, and has earned the nickname “Tuscany’s lost capital.” For a closer look at its role as a hub for pilgrims, head to via Conti, where you can explore the findings of the excavation site at the Torre degli Stipendiari, which was formerly a carpentry workshop and is now the headquarters of the cultural association CRA (Centro Raccolta Arte). If your tastes are more modern, the association also hosts an array of lectures and events, frequently with a contemporary art focus.
Still, San Miniato’s pride and joy—the truffle—remains the town’s top attraction. Several internationally famous, mostly truffle-centered food festivals take place in the town. The most popular comes in autumn: the White Truffle Festival of San Miniato (Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco di San Miniato). Typically held over the last three weekends of November and the first weekend of December, the festival brings together gourmands, professional buyers and curious tasters for full days of open-air fun and truffle-based menus.
But don’t despair if your trip doesn’t land at that time of year: summertime travelers can take advantage of the Notte Nera (“Black Night”) in mid-June, which pays tribute the white truffle’s black twin; September visitors can carve out a stop in La Serra for the White Truffle Festival on the last weekend of the month; and early-autumn visitors can indulge at the Festa del Tartufo di Balconevisi on the third weekend of October. Get up-to-date information on all of these festivals at www.sanminiatopromozione.it.
Stay in San Miniato and get a good night’s rest for day two; you’ll have some substantial foot travel to make to get to Castelfiorentino.